We all were heartbroken to hear about the female elephant that was ‘fed’ pineapple filled with firecrackers, they got exploded in her mouth and she succumbed to the injuries. To add up to the tragedy, later postmortem reports showed that she was pregnant. It’s insane to torture animals whichever is the method, it’s insane that somebody could come up with such an idea.. BUT, later it was found that those pineapples weren’t actively “fed” to the elephant, they were meant for something else. They were kept as a snare to shoo away/attack/scare the wild boars and other animals who damaged the crops, the elephant just happened to have come across them (read the report here).
Now the questions that I have are:
Why do people have so much against wild animals that attack their lands? Whose land is it anyway? Who actually hijacked it, common people, corporations or greed and ambitions of human race? Is it okay if the wild boars get injured the same way as the elephant? Would we feel similar remorse? Do wild boar’s lives matter? Are there any provisions for elephants (or any animals) to get proper and safe access to food? What if a human child had come across that pineapple snare? Should we feel the same amount of pain or we’d first check the background status of the child and then decide how to respond? And most importantly, who gets to decide whose life matters more?
Do we really care about animals?
Not really. We only care about the momentary adrenaline that rushed through our veins when we heard that “sansani khabar” (Oh my God! How can someone do such a thing to the poor elephant? People are so cruel!) Earlier this year, it was reported that government is soon going to permit farmers with licensed firearms to shoot the wild boars and other animals who wander into their lands. There have been several incidents when tigers, leopards and other animals have fallen prey to haphazardly placed snares around farms and even wildlife corridors.
It’s a fact that people love violence. It’s just that the half of us don’t like to actively participate in violence, we just like to hear the story afterwards – the more the gore, the quicker we respond.
The whole incident reminds me of the recent webinar arranged by ISPP on Healthcare infrastructure and policy. One of the speakers, SY Quraishi (former Chief election commissioner of India) gave an example of public reaction on a similar ground.
They all had gathered for some conference related to children’s welfare, where a few socially woke artists were also present. He decided to conduct an experiment. He told people in the conference that around 300 children died in a blast in Syria’, and observed their responses.
Obviously people got panicked and were shocked to hear this, expressed their grief, and frantically took out their phones to maybe tweet or to search more info.. Mr. Quraishi then told them, it hadn’t happened that day, he just wanted to see their reactions.
Then he said these many kids die almost daily in India because of starvation, malnutrition, even a minor illness because there is no all accessible public health infrastructure. But we don’t pay attention to these news – mostly they don’t even get reported. It’s almost as if it’s okay or just normal to die of hunger..
Whenever we hear about incidents like what happened to the elephant, we don’t like to give it a minute and actually think about it, or try to find out the factors responsible, or take an initiative to solve the problems. We only pop our eyes out when we hear about one heartbreaking incident, which is actually the tip of the iceberg, and then move on. The problem remains unsolved.
PS: In a parallel world, when the teacher will ask "Who is the strongest animal on the earth?" the student from any of the marginalized community would answer with "elephant, because it could melt hearts of millions of Indians and even celebrities who don't bat an eyelid when human beings get murdered in broad daylight in the name of gender, caste, religion, 'honor'.."
Do you witness the beautiful dawn that promises hope? Or your window is more fond of sunsets? Do you enjoy the glimpses of the afternoon? Or does your window love to expose you to the merciless wrath of the Sun?
What do you see from your window? Another window? Buildings? Trees? Birds? Nests? Mobile towers? Brazen, barren branches? All of these? Or none of these?
Does your window show you the roads? Do you see the people running like ants, struggling to follow their routine? Or is your window too high off from the ground that you can’t see what goes around the Mother Earth?
Do you see trucks, carrying the basic necessities of our lives? Do you see municipality’s garbage trucks? Do you see the quick rush of adrenaline in people when the RTO contractors inspect the street for vehicles parked in ‘no-parking zone’? Do you see the grin on the faces when they pick someone’s bike or car? Do you see a group of people asking if people can’t even read the signboard? Do you see the other group arguing that there is no space left to park? Do you see a third party of people that look somehow content that they don’t possess any vehicle and convince themselves that a simple life is better because they don’t have any choice anyway?
Do you see the street vendors from your window? Do you turn and take a peek at what they’re selling? Do you see the posh humans coming in their cars to bargain with those street vendors for smallest of the small things? Do you see the rush of street vendors to run away when someone comes with the news that police is coming? Do you see the evil grins of the customers who were buying stuff from them just a minute before they had to run?
Do you see the railway tracks being the permanent residence of countless humans? Do you see their children playing on those tracks for doing which you’d forbid your own children?
Do you see the scavengers entering the potholes which are full of your own shit that you flinch to deal with? Do you see that waste-picker woman who curses you under her breath for not sorting out the waste properly?
Do you see the coal black smoke making rounds in the air you breathe? Do you witness the rare times when flocks of birds decide to take the risk and fly the sky that we spoil daily? Do you see the rats and pigeons crashed under the cars that spoil the sky for birds?
Do you see the street dogs attending a late night conference? Do you see the empty streets that look peaceful the whole night?
Do you see the marches of people asking for humanity? Do you see the mobs whose specific aim is to smash every aspect of humanity?
Do you see the funeral processions rarely passing through the street? Do you see the young couple taking home their newborn, overwhelmed and overjoyed?
Do you see that lone labourer who drinks on the street to forget the day’s endurance? Do you see the rich kids who decide to take a stroll through the road on the empty streets of night on their new bikes? Do you see the nervous woman returning late from work, constantly looking behind and checking every direction? Do you see that corporate employee walking home after recieving a big scolding from his boss, plotting how to punish his family for his bad mood?
It’s the birth anniversary of honourable Jotirao Phule. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and it strongly reminds us of the time when his wife and a great social reformer Savitribai Phule selflessly helped people during 1897’s plague epidemic and later succumbed to it. That was true sacrifice, many say, and I agree. But he was long gone before that plague pandemic.
I am not here to count Savitribai and Jotiba Phule’s social contributions or achievements; people have been doing that quite efficiently. I am just a nobody who wonders how and why they were what they were. How they could function the way they did, while in today’s era I am yet to find an example with even an ounce of similarity. I do think about this a lot, because the very fact that I am sitting in front of my laptop, writing, that too in English, is because these two rebeled against centuries of oppression of women and the marginalized and gave them the torch of education.
Crazy, is one word I can think of, when I think of them and countless other humans who were way ahead of their respective times. May it be Siddhartha who went on exile to prevent his family’s exclusion from Saakya clan because of his anti-war stance, or may it be Yuang Chwang’s (Xuanzang) 4 years of deadly venture through the desserts to communicate Indian Buddhism with that of Chinese, or may it be Maharshi Karve’s Periodical “Samaaj Swasthya” to create awareness about sexual health or Dr. Ambedkar’s firm stances on every issue concerning humanity (including his resignation in support of Hindu code Bill that was supposed to be women’s legal liberator, or his support for LGBTQ rights and the case he fought for Karve’s Samaaj Swasthya)..
Can you, dear men, wrap your head around the fact that Savitribai lit Jotiba’s pyre in 1890 when most of you still don’t allow women to even visit the cremation in 2020..? Can you understand how ahead of their time they were when Jotiba asked the Brahmins if Brahma menstruated through his mouth (along with other three parts from where other castes originated) since they so enthusiastically claim that they’re high because they originated from his mouth?
Can you dare to ask these questions even today? Can you even think of these queries today in 2020? Do you even acknowledge them fully? Can you sleep after limiting them to their specific castes/religions and pretending that they don’t bother you? How does it feel to look them in the eyes-though in photographs-while garlanding them on their birth/death anniversaries? So many of you sing praises of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s bravery and welfare state, how many of you know that Jotiba Phule had found his tomb and initiated celebration of his birth anniversary? How many of you can claim with evidence that you follow them to the fullest? How many of you know that his name was Jotiba/Jotirao and not Jyotiba/Jyotirao (“Joti” meaning plough, a peasant/labouring caste metaphor) ? Today’s elite Marathi women remember Raja Rammohan Roy, Agarkar, Tilak, etc when it comes to male social reformers; do they remember that Jotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule must have helped the past widows in their families who were victims of abuse? Do they remember that Tilak was opposed to the idea of women’s education and ridiculed the work of Jotiba and Savitribai?
Can you imagine yourself sharing every resources and opportunities you got with your wives like Jotiba Phule did? Can you tolerate your wife having her individual existence like Jotiba Phule promoted his wife to have, so that she could help rise countless other women and the future generations? Can you imagine sharing your dreams, your interpretation of the world with your wife to have a common existence to uphold the society?
Can you notice the stark contrast that Jotiba and Savitribai founded Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha (infant/child-murder Prohibition Home) for pregnant rape victims to help deliver and save their children, while we still have to impose ban in 2020 on sex determination of foetuses to prevent female foeticide AND the politicians still win elections by promising suspension of this ban? (The authorities have found a new excuse of the pandemic and suspended the ban for two months at least, without taking the possible misuse of it into account. Funny, isn’t it?) Can we pause for a minute and think how brave of them it was to question the British power back then; while we, in 2020, mutely accept that our leaders continue enduring all the bullying by the so called superpowers?
You, who impose that women should cover their body in front of male ‘family members’; you, who still wrap menstrual hygiene products in a paper and insist that women should smuggle it from room to room as if it’s heroin or cocaine; you, who simply glorify women’s suffering instead of making the society equal for all; you, who deliberately overlook the statistics of the overall oppression and exploitation of women while repeatedly disbelieving their complaints; you, who resort to illogical whataboutary and violence when anyone questions or threatens the irrational existence of your authority, you can never ask these questions.
A friend of mine said once that love for a person and love for the society cannot be mingled. He strongly believes that once you fail/are denied love from a person, then you go on a ‘spiritual mode’ and start believing in the love for the society and help the society. I DON’T agree. Look at Jotirao and Savitribai; Jotirao unlearned all the norms and stereotypes enforced by the society and shared his dreams and passions with Savitribai. Savitribai took it further, and together, they made a beautiful world-no matter how surreal it seems even today-that keeps motivating those who seek it. It’s impossible to study their social and personal existence separately. If they could do it, we have no excuse..
Oh, how I dreamt in school When heard speeches of Kalam..
Thought I really had wings..
Thought I’ll make us THE Superpower, Thought I’ll help make Development sustainable, Thought I’ll help people See through all the bullshit, Thought I’ll make Education accessible, Thought I’ll give everyone Every opportunity,
To make new discoveries, To make ideas come true, To venture the world, the universe, To find the purpose-the real one, To choose, To love, To dislike, To befriend, To never be left behind..
Today I see Vilest of the vile people Doing stupidest of the stupid things, And taking pride, smaller than nothing,
Now when someone plays that iPhone-made short film, With Kalam’s voice in the back And kids repeating after him, “I am born with wings”, I cringe and then I laugh.
When Shalini finally came to know that her daughter Leila is alive and safe, she shared her joy with her friend. Friend? Or co-worker? Is there a word such as ‘co-sufferer’? Because that’s what they all were. As close to ‘friends’ as they could be. This ‘friend’, on the day Shalini was going to meet Leila, said to Shalini, “Leila ko mere baare mein batana haan..! (Do tell Leila about me!)” with so much enthusiasm, as if she was going to get the Nobel prize. We never saw her again, we don’t know what her fate was, also because it’s a fictional character.
But the important thing was that she wanted to be remembered. She didn’t know Shalini, she hadn’t even seen Leila, but by considering the little time she might’ve spent with Shalini, she thought she could be remembered by them. As a friend, as a co-worker, as a ‘co-sufferer’, as enemy, or in whatever way they’d seem fit.
Don’t we all want to leave something behind? Depending on which point we are on the scale of privilege and merit, the genre of the legacy that we want to leave would differ. Some would try to buy a cottage for their children, some would spend their life to send signals to aliens. Quite a variety of aspirations, really! But the aspiration to leave a legacy is common. This aspiration gives one something to live for. It gives one a big list of unfulfilled demands for the lifetime. To some, it gives hope. For some, it sucks out their presence in the present. Those who don’t have it, berate those who do. Those who have it, pity those who don’t. Deep inside, everyone knows that it is always there, in some or the other form. It ends only when we actually start living in the present.
But that’s difficult, isn’t it? How easily we procastinate something as simple as a blood test, or disregard years of research done on environmental crisis or reject the concept of something so obvious as ‘end’. The very first reflex is ignorance, because we don’t like to accept vulnerability, because we don’t like to acknowledge limitations or weakness. Instead, we start mocking those who do. We patronize them, belittle them and hope that everyone just forgets them.
The aspiration to leave a legacy comes from the same place. I wonder what we actually achieve by doing that. One day, I am sure I’ll find the answer.
Till then, we sing, ‘Achcha chalte hain, Duaon mein yaad rakhna…!’ (Okay I am leaving for now, but remember me in your prayers)
We often hear old people saying, once this-some task-is done, I am free to die, or sometimes if everything is done they are happy to die. At such times there is always at least one person who says, why do you say such things? You are going to live long, don’t fuss. This particular person, or many a times this big group of people is many times present in everyone’s family. They are always cheerful about life and fearful about death though it’s someone else’s. They always poke those who talk about death, or dying people. They are those who don’t like to hear ‘he/she died‘, they jab and ask us to say ‘he/she passed away‘. They criticize bitching about someone who is dead, and teach us to ‘have some respect for the dead’ (even if the dead one had scammed the property worth millions, or betrayed his wife!) Basically, they are just not death-friendly (!).
But almost everyone does that, right? Many people try to postpone a medical test or skip it; they don’t want to know much, they like to stay in sweetened myth of a healthy life. It’s another thing that this attitude, many times leads them to a more advanced stage of their illness, may it be diabetes, heart disease or cancer, number of patients of which, are evolving in our country. There are many, who hide or don’t keep track of their ages. They’d dye their hair, use anti-aging products for skin, hide wrinkles and thus, their insecurities are utilized efficiently by various beauty product brands. Then there is a special category of those who call themselves ‘young at heart’, and try to sound cool to the younger generation by sometimes participating adventurous activities and come up with the one-liners such as ‘Age is just a number’ or ‘Age is a case of mind over matter’ etc. They are so overenthusiastic about everything that it makes us wonder, what exactly in goodness are they so excited about?
All this reminds me a distant relative’s 99th birthday party. The sons of the person had arranged that extravagant celebration, for this achievement (of reaching 99, which is rare these days!). My 6 year old nephew was stunned by the idea of elders celebrating extravagant birthday, he used to think that it was only for the younger ones. After a deep analysis, maybe he got an interesting conclusion. He said, ‘Okay, now I get it. It’s his 99th birthday, so when he’ll be 100 it’s finished! Right?’ One tight slap was the only response that he got. It’s funny how numbers play with our minds, the shopkeepers and brands play with us all the time by writing price as 499 or 999 instead of 500 and 1000. We say it’s a psychological tendency to feel that we saved so much more by buying the product worth 999 than by that worth 1000, though it’s just a rupee. Same was the case with this kid, who thought 100 is a complete number. He was a very thoughtful kid with vivid imagination, but all his skills got constricted by this incident; just because he predicted the person’s death, indirectly (surprisingly, the birthday-boy died before reaching 100! But let’s get serious..)
There are so many theories regarding death, afterlife. The entire ‘religious market’ is based on such theories only. Theory would be a very bad terminology, but the people following them take them very seriously. Every religion (except a few) tells only one thing, follow our terms and you’ll be placed in a world of infinite happiness after death. If you don’t, then the world of infinite suffering is ready for you. The entire life is then spent in worrying about the life after death, but that’s a different story. If, such a thing really exists and a majority of population follows it, then why is there such a hush-hush about death? Why fear death? And why ignore its nearing? Why ignore the aging? Or even if those worlds of happiness and suffering after death don’t exist, what is the point of this ignorance?
I wonder if it is because people have a tendency-not sure if it is natural-to shed big responsibilities. People always seem to struggle for power and authority, but it’s an illusion. They may like to rule a company, or a political party, or even just a small scale organization; they may like to have called upon stage to get awards or felicitation or even just a bouquet. But they don’t really like to accept the maturity that comes with age. When you convince yourself to be young at heart, when you cover your age, you deny the wisdom and knowledge of life that comes with it. In Tuesdays with Morrie, Prof. Morrie says,
”As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”
All this philosophy sounds nice. But we always observe people saying I wish I were young again. For that, they create an illusion of this wish fulfilled. ‘Fulfilling’ this wish, varies from person to person, some like to ‘look’ young, some like to ‘feel’ young, some behave like youngsters, some take part in the mischiefs and spoil their grandkids-despite the defiance by kid’s parents-in order to be considered as a member of the kids’ gang. We never hear once, ‘I wish I was seventy.’ If aging is so valuable, why don’t we embrace it?
Because this ignorance reflects unsatisfied lives, unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. You can’t wait until sixty-five. So all younger people should know this-if you always battle against getting older, you always suffer, because it will happen anyway. And the truest fact of life is that eventually, you ARE going to die. The only thing you can make sure is that the death doesn’t start early and stay for long time before actually dying. Morrie answers to the query if he is envious of the young,
”Oh, I guess I do. I envy them being able to go to the health club, or go for a swim. Or dance. Mostly for dancing. But envy comes to me, I feel it, and then I let it go. Let it go. Tell yourself, That’s envy, I’m going to separate from it now, And walk away. Of course, it is impossible for the old not to envy the young. But the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that. This is your time to be in your thirties. I had my time to be in my thirties, and now is my time to be seventy-eight. You have to find what’s good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now. Looking back makes you competitive. And, age is not a competitive issue.”
The truth about the old ones is, part of them is every age. They are three-year-old, they are five-year-old, they are thirty-seven-year-old, they are fifty-year-old. They’ve been through all of them, and they know what it’s like. We should delight in being a child when it’s appropriate to be a child. We should delight in being a wise old man when it’s required to be a wise old man. Think of all we can be! We are every age, up to our own. So how can we be envious of where the young are, when we have already been there!
Recently, I watched the newly released movie in theater-Jurassic Park: The fallen kingdom. Overall, it was a good movie, technically and otherwise. The usual plot of any Jurassic Park/world movie is almost the same, someone gets greedy and wants to use genetic technology and the dinosaurs for some purpose. For example, John Hammond wanted to create something very amazing with his money and influence so he built the theme park to astonish the world by having living dinosaurs in it, the next part has his son bringing out the T-rex for selling it to a park, the third part deals with adrenaline junkie kids to visit the island for adventure. Then there is ‘Jurassic world’ series, where the park is rebuilt and we see two parties- 1] park’s founding body who thinks that dinosaurs are just another toy to show in the amusement park & 2] The military who wants to create dinosaur species to hunt given target. In the end, everyone learns his lesson in the end in his own way.
The latest sequel talks about one more problem-the volcano on Isla Numblar getting more and more active, and having the potential to burn the island completely which would cause the elimination of all the dinosaur species from earth (once again). This starts a conflict, whether to let mother nature rule (let the dinosaurs die) or to meddle in her business (and save them by displacing them to a new island). Immediately there are two groups, those who want to save the dinosaurs and those who don’t want to take any additional actions. There is a third hidden group of the opportunists, who deceive the first group to track the dinosaurs on the island and capture them for experimentation and military purposes.
There is one incident in the movie where, from the island, military men rescue as many dinosaur species as possible and take them on their military ship. The time is critical and the volcano is on the peak of destruction. Everyone reaches on board and suddenly they all hear an excruciating sound, the sad cries of a giant Diplodocus (sort of), who was left behind, standing alone on the deck. As if she was calling them to come back for her, or saying her goodbyes, no one would know. No one could do anything. They didn’t return for her, maybe because she was just a harmless herbivore, who took too much space, and couldn’t be a killer. In seconds the lava erupted and poor dinosaur, who was once the crown jewel of the park and the epic magnanimous creature of the planet, was embraced by the flames. This triggers something in the viewers, that they can describe with no locution.
The senate witnesses a debate between first two groups-whether or not to save isla numblar’s dinosaurs from volcanic eruption? Tough question, because it starts its own list of questions-Who has more right to live than others? Who is the better one? Who has the right to decide that someone is better than others? Who gets the authority to decide everyone’s net worth? Is there any measure, any unit to describe that? How many units is good and how many is bad? What is good and what is bad?
This reminded me of another movie, ‘The Oxford Murders’. In that, the protagonist-Martin, a university student, unravels the mystery of his landlady’s murder, while being fooled by his idol-Arthur Seldom-who is actually, trying to cover the murderer because of some guilt from past. Seldom makes Martin believe that a serial killer is challenging them by giving them a mathematical problem. But his puzzles are used as a cover by a desperate father of a seven year old girl in need of a lung transplant and he murders next few (who are already on the verge of dying). He plans to blow up the school-bus of differently abled kids and use one of their lungs for his daughter’s transplant. He dies in the ordeal, but the curious thing is, why did he think it’s appropriate to take lives of those kids? Because their consciousness was not as developed as ours? Does it make them insignificant? The French graphic novel Le Transperceneige (on which the movie Snowpiercer is based) shows the struggle-to live on the same footage, in the ice age caused by a failed global warming experiment, done by humans of course-between the high and low classes of humans-not caring about the whereabouts of other elements of the planet’s biological sector. It, therefore, indirectly shows the narcissistic human nature-how little we care about others, may they be other humans or creatures.
There are many movies and fiction shows that show similar line of existential crisis. It’s funny how the production houses for such movies (which are mostly Hollywood, Marvel or Warner Bros, etc.) keep their own countries at the center of the decision making body in the movie and still make money on an international level. Even in kid’s cartoon, Doraemon shows Japanese earth’s representative in outer space, the Potterverse mentions the magical population from only Europe. This is of course obvious, everyone favors their own troupe. We naturally feel safe in a familiar environment with people we know. This natural instinct-a characteristic feature representing our animalistic lineage-is interpreted by human population as a license to berate the unfamiliar.
In his book Sapiens-A brief history of mankind, Yuval Noah Harari has beautifully given account of the socio-psycho-biological evolution of mankind. There were more than six species under the category of ‘Humans’ (under the genus Homo) one of which are us, Homo sapiens. What made the others decline making us the only human species? Or the question should be, what is so special about sapiens that they are the only lasting members of the said genus? The answer is cognitive evolution, which involves more than just communication skills. Many animals and humans (other than sapiens) could say ”Careful! A lion!”-to make others aware and run or to fool them away from food. But a modern human-sapien-can tell her friends that this morning near the bend in the river, she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison. She can then describe the exact location, including different paths leading to the area. With this data, they all can discuss whether they should approach the the river, chase away the lion and hunt the bison.
This cognitive revolution also allows Homo sapiens toacquire the ability to say ”The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.” Only us sapiens can construct and believe in a world based entirely on fiction. This enables us to cooperate on a massive level-using one faith system, we just have to believe in the guardian spirit of lion-even without forming intimate bonding with each other, which is crucial in animals to trust each other. This is our secret behind the dominance over other species.But this comes with a great responsibility, because we live in a world that has a huge number of elements connected by webs intermingled in each other in a complicated fashion. It needs to be intact because we can’t afford any single thread in the web to be broken.
I’d say in accordance with the cognitive revolution theory, our current behavior-showing favoritism towards the familiar/useful ones and thrashing others-is very ‘un-sapien-like’. We are supposed to be cooperating with everyone of us, so that the web is not disturbed. That’s the ultimate purpose of our existence, looking at the history of evolution. If everyone understands this, it’d be easier for us to decide what to do with the dinosaurs in Isla Numblar.
We always hear complains about the absurd lyrics that many film songs have. It would be considered alright if it’s just for comic entertainment, but if they (and they do) have a significant influence on half of the population-men-and make it harass the other half, then it’s a problematic situation. Two videos from AIB- The Bollywood Diva Song and Harassment Through the Ages-correctly point it out that Bollywood songs (and movies) are not helping in uplifting the dignity and honor of women. While we have movies like Kahani, Pink, Queen, Margarita with a Straw, Highway, Mirch Masala, depicting independent strong women, we also have embarrassing songs with lyrics like Saree ke fall sa, Achchi baatein kar li bahot…Ab karunga tere saath gandi baat, Hai tujhpe right mera, or hontho pe na dil me han hoinga, and many more.
Film music/songs are listened by almost everyone on phones or radio. Anyone can be seen dancing on them in a party. It is often stated that the products of Indian film Industry are responsible for the objectification of women and are causing men to have a sense of false male ego. It can be easily seen in the portrayal of a female protagonist in almost any movie-it’s either as Abla Naari or a slut-there is no in between.
It is not an exaggeration, one can refer to the detailed discussion on this in the famous Indian show Satyamev Jayate. In 2015, Sandesh Baliga, an Indian man residing in Australia was accused of stalking, harassing two women through disturbing messages, and self declaring himself as their boyfriend. In defense, his lawyer stated that Baliga’s behaviour is heavily influenced by the Bollywood movies according to which, it’s quite normal, and is a part of his culture. Tasmania court declared him ‘not guilty’.
It’s no secret that women’s value as a human being is still a big question-mark in India despite the bombardment of ‘salute to Indian women from ISRO’ messages, or posts showing women ‘progressing’ in various fields. Still, it’s a great shame that Indian culture still has the potential to be used in defending harassing women even on an international level.
Recently, Thomas Reuters Foundation carried a survey concluding that India is the most unsafe country for women. Government of India, on the other hand, declined the reliability of this-on the same page of the newspaper where another news of a Canadian tourist getting raped in Delhi was given in a small column, irony! Actually, in a country where the celebs are worshipped as deities (no matter how corrupt they are) and where people can go on the rampage and burn school-buses just because they don’t like the content of a movie, the film industry should be more careful about what it shows about women. Maybe it’s too busy in the fight for freedom of speech, to care about women’s upliftment(!).
One from an older generation would like to argue that our youth is badly influenced by western music and films. They would simply state, ‘The films and songs were so meaningful. The audience were elites and had a taste, so the songs were based on classical music,’ or sometimes argue, ‘the youngsters are ignoring the treasures of Swadesi Classical music, which is the root cause of poor level of film songs’. These ‘elites’ are one of the reasons behind making classical music non relatable to today’s youth. They divide and discriminate between ‘classical’ music and music, where actually art should have no boundaries-there can be genres, but none is better than others. But then someone occasionally makes movies like Balgandharva, Katyar Kaaljat ghusli etc, and the elites become happily satisfied, the main issue remaining unaddressed. Now, how is this relevant to the topic of film song lyrics that was being addressed? If we have a look at the current setup of a classical mehfil (concert), it’ll get cleared.
Considering Hindustani classical music, the vital element of any Hindustani classical program is a Bandish, or cheez, a song having 4-6 lines divided into Sthayi and Antara. The singer beautifully elaborates the words inside the boundaries of a particular raaga, and at the same time, describes the raaga in the boundaries of the words. If usually the classical singer is singing the same lines for at least an hour or two, then it is really important to do some analysis on a typical bandish. There seems to be a traditional set of such bandish which were written at least 800 years ago, considering the era defining the revolutionary progression of Hindustani classical music-around 11th or 12th century or even earlier. Initially Indian classical music had more mechanical structure-Dhrupad–which contained purely deity-based verses, and music was just a means of worship. Afterwards, the north side of the country got under the influence of Muslim rulers-Sultans, Nawabs, Mughals, Nizam, etc. thereby influencing the art and culture. Indian artists embraced this because it allowed the artists to, for the first time, express themselves through the Khyal (literally meaning ‘thought’) gaayki -this sounds similar to the inspiration behind the famous painting ‘Monalisa’. The bandish were now sung in the khyal and were structured accordingly. We absorbed more elements like Thumri, Dadra, etc. which, in spite of being of only semi-classical form, are now a relentless and inexorable piece of the Hindustani classical concert.
Currently, very few bandish are based on some common theme relatable to everyone, like nature, etc. Hindustani classical bandishismostly based on either Radha & Krishna or the love of some unknown woman who is desperate to seek attention of her intended. One such example is a famous bandish in raaga Hameer:
Sthayi- Langarawaa kaise ghar jaaon, Sun paave mori saas nanadiya, Chhad de mohe dheeth | (How can I go home now? My in-laws will admonish me if they hear about this-‘this’, is explained in the antara)
Antara- Hoon jo chali panaghatava thaado, Kaun bahaane pyaare balama, Cheen lai mori sees gagariya, Barajori tihaare (sundaravaa) || (I had gone to fill water near the river, and my beloved, being naughty, snatched the pot from my head and was aggressing me-barajori could mean harassment, but it sounds welcome since it’s by husband)
One more famous bandish in a similar mood, which is quite famous, is from the raaga Puriya Dhanashree,
Sthayi- Paayaliya jhanakaar more, Jhanana jhanana baaje jhanakaar | (my anklets are so noisy, they make sound -jhanana jhanana)
Antara- Piya samajhaaun samajhat naahin, Saas nanad mori degi gaari || (My beloved is not being patient no matter how much I explain that if I move out of the house, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (saas-nanad) will listen and they will curse me.)
Both of these lyrics portray a woman who is immensely frightened of her in-laws. And there is an overeager or over demanding husband who likes to keep her in trouble. This woman can’t even go anywhere without getting scolded. Many bandish from many ragas have the same words with little bit of rearrangement. Many bandish lyrics show poor sense of poetry. There are a number of bandish where the woman is facing atrocities like in this bandish in raaga Todi:
Sthayi-Langar kaankariyaa ji naa maaro, mora angavaa laagi jaaye| (Please don’t throw stones-kankariya-at me, I’ll get hurt)
Antara- Sun paave mori saas nanadiyaa, daure daure ghar aave (if my in-laws hear about this, I’ll have to run from here to go home)
Also, some bandish also portray a woman who has extremely low self esteem, for example, in raaga Malkans:
Sthayi-Main piya sang lad pachtaayi re, bhayi akal ki kaani re| (I heavily regret arguing with my beloved. Oh I was such a brainless fool!-‘Akal ki Kaani’)
Antara- Tadap tadap ke giri se zuke, jaise meen bin paani re|| (I am suffering badly, like a fish without water.)-Arguments happen all the time, why does this lady feel terrible enough to curse her intelligence? It might be because it was against the rules meant for women to speak their mind and have a different opinion.
A similar bandish says,
Sthayi- Maan le mori baat saiyyan, beet gayi jug, naa maane saiyyan|(Here, the man is somehow unhappy and gone away, it’s been ages)
Antara- Begi begi aao levo daras, Tarasat jiya mora|(she is desperately convincing him to come again, and her soul is suffering without seeing him.)
She is portrayed to be having nothing else sensible enough to do. And it is not very surprising in India that woman is not supposed to do anything other than pleasing the man in her life and always depend on a man in the first place. So in almost all the bandish lyrics, a woman is depicted as someone desperate to please her man. The man, however, is highly notorious and is extremely ignorant of this woman. She has nothing interesting to do. Looking at the ratio of male and female classical singers (males being dominant), it is highly ironic to see
Male singers singing all this on behalf of that helpless woman, and
Female singers singing these lyrics, not caring about the hidden insult in them.
We live in the twenty-first century and sing a bandish written a thousand years back. In the theory of classical music, Khyal is defined as the thoughts (of the singer) described by the singer. So if it is supposed to be the singer’s own Khyal, looking at these bandish lyrics,is it really his/her own thought? It’s a tragedy to have an entire regime of art, based on fake assumptions. Also, they have huge influence of a single community and their deities, so it’s not really relatable to every group of people in the country (apart from it not being relatable to half of the population-women).
The kingdom of Thumri, has slightly more frank depiction of so-called human emotions-mainly love. It takes all the freedom to break the boundaries of raaga and explore further, just like the courtesans-Tawaifs-who left the boundaries (as well as their right to be honored-whether they left those boundaries, or they were made to leave them, is a question yet to be answered). It is superficially stated that the rulers of the medieval period encouraged thumri and took it to the mainstream art-both dance and music. Earlier, thumri was being performed by the courtesans-who were kathak dancers as well-along with dance (bol-baant). It evolved mostly in Lucknow in the court of Nawab Waajid Ali Shah.
Soon, the sophisticated elites of classical music realised the elegance of this genre, and a new version of thumri arose and evolved in Varanasi in the late 19th century, which was independent of dance, and much more slow-paced (bol-banav). Thumri got honorary place in the Hindustani classical music, at the cost of the decline in the grace of tawaifs-who actually originated the art-causing their fall into consequences as bad as prostitution. Curious species would notice that in the old era, women dominated in thumri, but classical music was dominated by men. And women performing thumri didn’t have much honorary life-as we’ll get to see in the upcoming biopic of Gauhar Jaan-and women weren’t encouraged in the genre of classical music (one could conclude from this that women performing any kind of music were looked down upon anyway). Now the picture has changed with time. Now we have both male and female thumri singers in almost same ratio. Some examples of the thumri that is sung today:
Raag Sindhura: Baalam tere jhagde mein rain gayi (oh dearest, you have wasted the entire night in the fight(argument)). Sometimes it is only a single line.
And the famous one in raag Tilak Kamod,
Sthayi- Neer bharan kaise jaoon sakhi ab, Dagar chalat mo seh karat raar mein (O my friend, how do I go to fill water? On the way he (Krishna) teases me).
Antara- Eiso chanchal chapal hat nat khat maan, Tana kahu ki baat, Vinati karat mein gayi re haar ab (He is clever naughty, dramatic and very stubborn, doesn’t listen to anybody. I am tired of requesting him not to tease me).
And so on.. So basically, all the thumris have the same essence-woman stays in trouble. It is a wonder how singers don’t have any problem while singing this, while expressing the khyal-emotions and thoughts-which completely cut all the hopes for the upliftment of women. Yet we blame Bollywood for writing offensive lyrics, while even the original, ‘classical’ art doesn’t allow a woman to grow out of her old under-confident, suppressed form. It is often stated that the skeleton of Indian film music is classical music. Everyone who wants to be associated with Indian film music, is advised to learn the basics of classical music, which of course includes the same bandish, though in its basic form. It would not be absurd to say that along with the basic skeleton, the practice of humiliating women through lyrics has also passed on from classical to film music.
All this clearly indicates that an update of some kind is extremely important in this sphere of art. One would come with an argument that these bandish’ preserve the old tradition and culture. But we already have a rich kingdom of folk arts for the preservation of culture and tradition. Folk artists from different caste and crews have already been assigned this task by the customs, and they are struggling to keep up with it while wondering about staying alive (but thanks to the bits of support and encouragement from AIR, reality TV shows and Cultural Ministry). Some make a (reasonably valid) point that in classical music, the notes (sur) and vocals (gaayki) are dominant over lyrics. Sure, words are not as dominant here as they are in gazal-where poetry is at its peak. This would have made ‘Tarana’s more popular. But khyal-gaayki is still intact, so we still need proper words to elaborate the raga-so it can be vaguely said that words in classical music are like salt in food, their presence doesn’t count but absence makes it tasteless.
Classical music should be regularly assessed, scrutinized, improvised and updated. It should embrace a systematic ‘research and development’ culture. Those who look at music just for entertaining audience and earning money, or those who make excuses like, ‘Music is a language in itself, once the singer enters the raaga he forgets everything, even words! Then does it really matter?’ cannot make a change. Public often considers artists to be crazy or self centered and many times they actually are, and show irresponsible behavior towards the society. Artists are an important part of a civilization, they hold the capacity to start great revolution just through their art. Any form of art they perform or present, should have a conscience and they should continuously improvise their art to encourage the progression of the society to a better condition.
We all are familiar to these flashlights used by professional photographers. These lights, add an extra glamour and perspective to the object that is being photographed. The object, may it be anything-nature, food, event, expression- is the same, yet, it looks different from different angles of the incident lights. It’s up to the capturer of these events to highlight the angle through which the beauty of the concerned object is at its peak. There are several regimes in which they work, on the basis of the location-wildlife, indoor, landscaping, political, photojournalism, etc. All share the same goal, of highlighting the major expression of the object to its peak intensity.
The writers too, should have the same goal. They write and give the best possible depiction of the scenario-real life or virtual. Sometimes they model a story, which shows their enormous capacity of creating a whole different world just with the words. Sometimes they become our guides and lead us on the beautiful path of enlightenment through their philosophical wisdom. Sometimes they become notorious and criticize, sometimes they rebel and stand against the odds of the world.
Out of all the many art forms, I consider the art of photography and art of writing more powerful, because these have the efficiency to show the world in its present form, as well as to inspire us to make it better. This blog is a small humble attempt to explore these two and to learn as much as possible from the world around me.